"You do realize it's going to be harder to pull this off this time?" Sai asked, watching Sakura steel herself while Ino shampooed her hair. The law student was draped backwards over a chair, arms resting on its back while he watched the operation. An open box stood on the table next to Ino, its contents spread all over the table, each one marked with the words COCOA HARBOR.

"Just dying your hair isn't going to be enough to turn you into a boy," Sai continued. "There's some other things missing here, Sakura. CRITICAL things."

"You can stop right there," Sakura snapped. She was already pretty pissed, considering the sacrifice she was making by allowing Ino to dye her hair. "I'm doing the best I can, alright?"

"How are you going to get past the bathroom in the boys' dorm?" Sai demanded. "Or the locker rooms? Or the camera crews and analysts who may just pick up that there's something different about you? This isn't Firestone, Sakura."

"So what? She should just give up?" Ino said, massaging more cream into Sakura's hair. Her face was getting ugly, and she scrubbed harder.

"Ow!" Sakura protested. "Careful, Ino!"


"So what do you suggest then?" Sakura demanded. "I'm already on the team, there's no way we can back out of this plan now. And rush weekend is coming up."

"Stay away from Akat Tsu Ki," said Sai. "You're already in too deep, Sakura. Don't make it any worse. You're already conspicuous enough without you having to poke around Akat Tsu Ki, too."

"But that's where the truth is!" said Sakura. "Sasuke's IN JAIL because of them, Sai. And he needs me to get to the bottom of this. Before Itachi can do something worse to him."

"What's going on? What – what the hell?" Sasuke said as they brought him into the room. "Why is he here?"

"Sit down, Mr. Uchiha," said the warden. "The lawyer for the prosecution intends to interview you for evidence during your appeal." He locked Sasuke's handcuffs to the chair and nodded at the two men. "You have fifteen minutes."

The door slammed shut.

"I don't care what you do to me, Itachi," said Sasuke, "but leave mom alone. Don't hurt her."

"Tsk, tsk, what's the magic word?" said Kisame with an ugly grin.

"Why are you worried about our mother?" Itachi said, skirting the table to touch his brother's face. "You should be more worried about yourself."

Sasuke's eyes went wide. "What-!"

Then Kisame clamped a hand over his nose and mouth.

The pressure was awful. It was like being crushed between a rock and the ocean. He twisted and jerked, bucked and even tried to bite, but it was useless. Kisame's grip was like a vise. Panic set in, shooting colored sparks across his eyes. Just when the darkness was eating at the corners of his vision, Kisame let go. Sasuke sucked in a massive rush of air, panting as the iron bands of suffocation released his ribs and mind.

"Suffocation – the perfect form of torture," said his brother. "Leaves no marks on the body, you know. And who's going to believe the word of a convicted murderer over two respectable lawyers?"

Sasuke's eyes glazed over as he fell forward over his knees, his heart still racing with fear and with the hope that comes with breathing oxygen. Then Kisame grabbed a fistful of his raven-black hair and yanked it back, forcing him to meet Itachi's merciless gaze.

"You freak," Itachi said softly. "You know, I almost liked you when we were kids. You were kind of cute, you know, and you did look up to me – enough to keep the secret about our dad's death. But this is what I hate about you. Look at you – perfect life, perfect friends, perfect girlfriend, perfect career in basketball, perfect future. The only thing in the way is your stupid convict older brother, right?"

"You know I can't believe I looked up to you," Sasuke growled through ground teeth. "Who in their right mind wants to grow up to be like a guy who murdered his own father for a fortune that he still can't get his hands on?"

He flinched as Itachi moved to strike him, but stopped his hand just before the blow. Instead of bruising him, Itachi lightly patted his younger brother's cheek.

"No marks, remember?" Itachi said. "Well this time, Sasuke, I'm going to leave my mark. I left you alone long enough. Hell, I even let you off lightly. I could have gotten rid of you as a fellow beneficiary to that fortune when you were five. Instead, I let you get off on charges of accidental manslaughter. But I don't think that's going to happen this time."

He nodded at Kisame, who clamped his hand over Sasuke's face again. This time Sasuke fought to squelch the rising panic that accompanied suffocation, knowing that Itachi couldn't, wouldn't dare kill him, not here in this jail with wardens outside that door…would he? Fear struck at his heart, and he wrenched himself forward just as Kisame let go.

"So tell me," said Itachi, bending over Sasuke as he struggled to breathe again, "where is your pink-haired sexy playtoy? And what exactly did you tell her to do?"

"OK, presenting Sen Hitachi, the Kishimoto Shuriken's new star!"

Sakura emerged from the bathroom, having donned the appropriate concealers and clothing to mask her true figure. Ino heaved a sigh.

"I'm sorry, Sakura, but you're still just so…girly."

"Hey, if it keeps that Karin freak away from me, I don't care," Sakura said indignantly.

Sai shook his head. "Sakura, this isn't going to work. You're too small."

"Hey! I'm tall for a girl! And small people matter too!" Sakura bristled indignantly.

"No, not that," Sai said impatiently. "I mean for basketball. How do you expect to play defense against six-foot-plus, two hundred and sixty pound men?"

"Oh." Sakura's face fell.

"She did well in that game against the Kubo Shinigami," Ino said defensively.

"Yeah – but only because their guard was such a poor ballhandler that it was easy for her to steal," Sai said. "If he had been taller, tougher, and faster, she wouldn't have stood a chance. You can play offense as well as any guy, Sakura, but on defense? Well, let's face it – physically, you're at a huge disadvantage."

"So what does that mean?" Sakura asked.

"It means, quite frankly, that playing for the Kishimoto Shuriken men's team is a waste of your time," Sai said. "You don't need to be doing it while you're trying to rush into Akat Tsu Ki's plan – which, by the way, I still don't approve of you doing."

"Oh shut up," said Sakura miserably. "Since when did I need your approval for anything I did?"

"Since Sasuke ended up in jail," said Sai. "You're being reckless, Sakura. Use your head, play it smart. Akat Tsu Ki is not a smart move for you – neither is exposing yourself to the potential danger of playing on the Shuriken."

Sakura shook her now-brown hair. "You've got to take risks to get things done," she said firmly. "Tell you what, Sai. I'll fall back on the Shuriken's line-up – I bet coach was about to drop me to second string anyway, considering what you said about defense. And I'll just scout out Akat Tsu Ki. I won't rush this semester. Will that make you happy?"

Sai grunted.

"Maybe we should try a different tactic," Itachi mused as Sasuke once more surfaced for air from under Kisame's massive hand. "Since the stick isn't getting you, maybe a carrot would be more effective."

"Spare me…the analogies," Sasuke groaned between gasps. Itachi smirked.

"Still trying to be smartass, eh?"

"Ha! Ass! Like a donkey!" Kisame chortled. Itachi shot him a withering glare, and he desisted. The older Uchiha walked around the back of his brother's chair and crouched down before him, meeting him eye to eye.

"Let's imagine," Itachi said silkily, "that our dear mother, my brother, was coming down the freeway, to visit you in prison, let's say. And now let's pretend that she's speeding slightly, like she tends to do when she's not paying attention and when there aren't any cops around. And now let's add a broken-down SUV on the side, waiting for her sedan to come closer, before it shoots out of the breakdown lane, strikes her on the driver's side, spins her out into the right lane of traffic and off the road into the ditch on the other side, where the sedan rolls over and over. Imagine how destroyed her little Acura would be after all that." Itachi met Sasuke's horrified gaze. "Imagine how sad it would be when, since her oldest son is dead and her younger son in prison for murder, her entire fortune is bequeathed to a long-lost Uchiha cousin."

"You couldn't," Sasuke said hoarsely. "You – nobody's that stupid, to drive into a moving car on the highway…"

"Who knows?" Itachi said carelessly. "We've got a daredevil in Akat Tsu Ki who seems to be quite lucky. That hasn't tamed his foul mouth, though, but perhaps he'd be motivated enough by a share of this long-lost cousin's fortune to risk his life."

"She's our mother!" Sasuke whispered. "My god, Itachi, she's the woman who gave birth to us…you already killed dad, I'm out of the way, why can't you just wait till Mom dies naturally?"

"Car accidents are natural," Itachi said. "They happen every day. The Konoha Bureau of Transportation estimates that one-third of all deaths among the civilian population, and almost one hundred percent of all non-disease related deaths, are caused by automobile accidents. With statistics like that, no one will think twice of a driver who didn't look twice before pulling back onto the freeway."

"Is there no pity in your heart?" Sasuke spat. Itachi glanced at Kisame, who moved once again. Itachi watched as his brother writhed under the pain of asphyxiation.

"Do I really need to answer that question?"

OMG it's been forever since I've updated this! And it's been a while since I've been here - has all these new rules that I was like WTF to, but whatever. This one meets the criteria, anyway. :P The movement of the Naruto Shippuden story has given me much more material to work with, like new char developments, insights, etc., so I can start crafting this fic to be as crazy as Alley Oop was for the first Naruto series! (I'm also like WTF to what I was thinking earlier in the plot development with this fic. I mean Sakura on the college men's team? SERIOUSLY...and it did nothing for the plot, so I'm backing down on that.) Whateverz. Hope you enjoyed! I shall continue on the next part soon enough. Meanwhile --review! Review! REVIEW! :)) Pretty pretty please? ~Rhulain